Did anyone see that coming at Phoenix? I certainly didn’t, for one.
By all accounts (even Brad Keselowski’s), Phoenix was supposed to be a relatively predictable build-up to the 2012 season finale, with Jimmie Johnson maintaining a slim points lead as Keselowski would wait for Homestead to make his move at the title.
As we now know, that’s anything but what actually transpired in the heat of the desert on Sunday. And that left us with some huge winners and losers, without any doubt.
Up: Brad Keselowski
Let’s cut to the chase, BK was the huge winner on Sunday in the desert. Although he took umbrage at the double standard with how his “hard” racing is regarded compared to the reaction to…everything that went on Sunday, and even managed to get fined by NASCAR for having a cell phone in his car, a solid sixth-place run was more than sufficient to take advantage of the misfortune of one Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski now carries an imposing 20-point lead into Homestead, where he will seek to give Dodge its first Cup championship on the very eve of the manufacturer’s exit from NASCAR.
Down: Jimmie Johnson
No doubt, Johnson had as bad of a week as did Mitt Romney in the Presidential election. And neither result has this writer happy, but I must do my journalistic duty and dish out failing grades where failing grades are due. Sunday’s result was reminiscent of last year at Charlotte during the Chase, where JJ wasn’t happy with a solid top-10 run and pushed just a little bit too far with disastrous results for his title hopes.
Up: NASCAR brawling, back-to-its-roots style
You didn’t think I’d neglect to mention the biggest storyline from last week, did you? And yes, this is even bigger for the sport than the dramatic turn in the championship battle. Well, it was certainly entertaining. And it definitely got plenty of attention for NASCAR in the mainstream sports world. (Not that NASCAR isn’t mainstream; I was just trying to avoid an awkward phrase like “non-motorsports-only sports world”…)
Down: NASCAR’s reaction to said brawl
I’m disappointed (but not surprised) that NASCAR reacted with such stiff penalties for Jeff Gordon and team. No one was put in harm’s way, and whether or not Gordon was exactly justified in taking out Bowyer, it’s possible to see his side of the story. This type of action is exactly what NASCAR needs to generate more publicity, and punishing the kind of behavior that made NASCAR what it is isn’t exactly the best idea, in my opinion.
Down: Championship drama
This week it was easier to identify losers than winners, so we’re going to have a run of three “down” topics here. One negative side effect of all the craziness on Sunday is that Brad Keselowski is basically guaranteed the title if he can simply stay out of trouble and run a clean race. It would have been a lot more interesting if we had a situation anything like the show Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards put on last year (ending in a tie!), but apparently we can’t be so lucky as fans two years in a row.
Down: Jeff Gordon
Gordo was an obvious loser in the goings-on at Phoenix. First, for getting wrecked and losing a shot at a good finish; second, for his life being put in mortal danger by 5-Hour Energy maniacs; third, for getting hit heavily by NASCAR, both in the points and in the pocketbook. On the bright side, he appears to have a future ahead of him in MMA if he so desires.
Up: Kevin Harvick
Finally we get to the race winner. Harvick was actually a double winner last week, both by avoiding a winless season by pulling out a surprise victory at PIR, and making even bigger news by announcing he’s headed to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. We haven’t seen the last of “Happy” Harvick in the Sprint Cup title conversation in years to come, not by a long shot.
The loss of Kevin Harvick will leave RCR without an established star in his prime. The onus will be on the Dillon brothers pretty much from this moment forward to carry the Childress banner, and that’s a lot to ask from a couple of kids who haven’t even seen serious action at the Cup level to this point.
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